"I'm looking at it across the street," says Joe Vostrejs, COO of Larimer Associates, gazing through his office window at Ocean Prime, the restaurant in the old Z Gallerie space. "They're ready."
Not long after restaurateur Cameron Mitchell took on this prime spot on the corner of Larimer Square, he vowed to get the doors open in early 2011. "To their credit, they set the January 20 date six months ago," Vostrejs says. And after several days of test meals and a giant charity bash that benefited the Denver Hospice last night, Ocean Prime will be casting off for dinner today, right on schedule.
Vostrejs isn't worried about a new Larimer Square restaurant cannibalizing the regulars of another. The Capital Grille is right across Larimer Street -- but there's also an Ocean Prime in Dallas that's right by another Capital Grille. Vostrejs sees their locations as being complementary. In fact, he sees all the restaurants that Larimer Associates has been bringing into the Square (whether opening them with partners or simply finding the right tenant for their buildings) as complementary.
"What I always say -- and I have the numbers to prove this -- is that I think not about how Larimer Square restaurants compete with each other, but about how Larimer Square as a dining destination competes with the rest of the city," he says.
Vostrejs looks at those numbers every month, and they confirm that even as Larimer Square adds new eating/drinking spots -- Euclid Hall (where Mitchell and a party from Ocean Prime went last night after the party at their own place ended) and Green Russell in 2010, with Samba Room rumored to be making a comeback soon -- the number of customers coming to Larimer Square increases.
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"We're not spreading the same number of customers around more places," Vostrejs notes. And not only are more customers coming down, but they're staying longer: "There's more reason to come to Larimer Square. They're making multiple stops. They're making it a whole evening."
There was a time when Larimer Square was a place locals would go only when they had tourists in town with a hankering for the Magic Pan (which once cooked up crepes where Ocean Prime is now berthed). But a dozen years ago Larimer Associates set out to make the block a regular destination for Denverites, and judging from all the packed restaurants last night, they've succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams.